How to choose the right protective gloves for your hands

By Malin Markebjer 
Account Manager
Granberg Sverige AB

What are protective gloves?

What do we mean when we talk about protective gloves? There are various gloves out there, but we can categorize gloves into two different types:

  1. Gloves for leisure activities.
  2. Work gloves, also known as protective gloves for hand safety when it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace.

According to the European Commission, PPE refers to products that the user can wear or hold to be protected against risks at work, home, or leisure activities. Statistics on fatal and major work accidents underline the importance of protection and prevention, for which personal protective equipment plays an important role. Protective gloves—as PPE— are worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.

What defines a protective glove? What type of markings are we talking about?

Let's start from the beginning.  Gloves are divided into three different CE categories. This is determined by the number of tests and markings the gloves have. CE is a certification mark in the European Union, and products with a CE mark meet health, safety, and environmental requirements.  

The first marking is called EN ISO 21420, previously known as EN 420, so some gloves may only display the old standard. This standard examines factors such as fit, chromium content, pH value, and hand fatigue. It focuses on the glove itself, not what it protects against.  

Example: assessing the risk of garden gloves  
If you have a glove that is not categorized as PPE, and you use it in your garden for a short period, it may not be important. However, if you wear a glove for up to seven hours, five days a week, you must ensure that the glove does not expose you to risks.  If it contains high levels of chromium, it can pose a risk to your body. The skin is our largest organ and absorbs harmful substances.  

Glove symbols  

All the symbols on a glove should be visible on the glove itself, either on the outside or on a small label inside. Today, more protective gloves are designed to appear more "fashionable,” disguising the fact that they are traditional work gloves. In addition to the markings, you can see the supplier of the gloves, indicating who is responsible for all the certificates. The country of origin should also be indicated.  

CE categories  

A highly common symbol in PPE is a small symbol with a hammer called EN 388. This symbol is found on gloves that fall under CAT II. When categorizing gloves into CE categories, we have the following:  

3.    CAT I gloves are for minimal risk, focusing mainly on protecting materials from dirt or your own hands from dirt.  

4.    CAT II gloves are for medium-risk situations, covering factors such as abrasion resistance, tear strength, cut protection, and even impact protection. These gloves are used in various professions, such as warehouses where handling cardboard boxes poses a risk of cut injuries, or in the steel industry, basically anywhere.  

5.    CAT III gloves are for high-risk situations like chemical protection. In many cases, when working with hazardous substances such as chemicals, companies often need to be made aware of how long gloves can be worn. This will be discussed in an upcoming episode dedicated to chemical handling.  

Risk analysis of gloves

It is crucial to conduct a risk analysis. Companies should conduct their own risk analysis to determine the necessary protective equipment. This is commonly done today for hearing protection, footwear, fall protection, flame-resistant gear, etc.

Why do you need to analyze the risk of gloves?

A risk analysis is essential to identify the specific hazards that must be addressed. Within a company, different departments may have varying needs. For example, while one department may require heat protection, not everyone may need it. Alternatively, one department may have higher risks related to cut protection. It is through conducting a risk analysis and assessment that the appropriate category of gloves can be selected.

This analysis should be done on a department-by-department basis, considering the specific needs of each department, and then choosing the correct gloves accordingly. Most commonly, CAT II and CAT III gloves are required, because in almost every job, you are exposed to some risk.

EN 388 testing – what is it?

In addition to the three categories, there is another common test for protective gloves to ensure hand safety at work: EN 388. More information is found in our Knowledge Center on Markings and Standards.

The EN 388 test evaluates the glove's performance in terms of abrasion resistance, puncture resistance, tear strength, and blade cut resistance. It also includes a test for impact protection.

Other tests for safety gloves

Then there are tests for heat protection and cold resistance—the cold test also includes a test for water permeability. In the protective glove industry, waterproof gloves often have membranes inside them to ensure they are waterproof.

Plus, some gloves are inherently waterproof because they are fully coated or rubberized. It's like comparing a hiking boot to a rubber boot. Eventually, water will seep into the hiking boot, while the rubber boot is completely watertight. This is important to consider when choosing gloves.

Workplace gloves safety awareness

Both safety representatives and employees need to be aware of their specific needs. We recently surveyed 200 companies in Sweden about their views on gloves and their purchasing practices. Surprisingly, very few companies conduct a risk analysis as the basis for selecting gloves. It's a bit unfortunate because numerous suppliers can assist with this process.

It is highly recommended that companies should focus on what they do best, whether it's shoes or helmets, and rely on the expertise of product sellers or seek assistance from their suppliers to perform a risk analysis. We work with gloves 24 hours a day, and it's our passion. Our safety representatives and other stakeholders have multiple product categories to manage.


Mitigating personal preferences in risk analysis

We often observe that the issue of personal preference arises during a company's risk analysis and decision-making process. If you line up 10 people, you'll get 10 different opinions on which gloves should be used. This complicates matters because the loudest voice gets their way frequently, and the risk analysis needs to be remembered. Our hands are our most important tools in our work, and our hands need protection.

Sometimes, personal opinions can overshadow the necessary considerations. Imagine a surgeon saying they won't use gloves—which would never happen. It is a matter of habit whether or not to wear gloves.

One can notice, to some extent, when interacting with people, to generalize that the older generation believes that "a little dirt under the nails never hurts anyone." However, if that dirt contains carcinogenic chemicals, it can be harmful.

It is unnecessary to take risks when there are protective work gloves available for the purpose. There is a shift happening where the new generation is more enlightened. In recent years, protective gloves have also evolved to become more user-friendly, offering higher levels of protection and increased comfort.

There are markings for everything.

We have already touched upon EN 388 and markings for cold and heat resistance. There are many different markings, and all symbols should be found inside the glove. If no markings are inside the glove, it is not a protective glove!

Can you use leisure gloves for your job?

What can happen if you use a leisure glove not tested for work? It depends on the specific risks involved in your job.

However, if you work in a warehouse where you may face risks of minor cuts from cardboard or abrasion, using an untested glove can have consequences. For example, if you are using a leather glove, the risk is that it may contain high levels of chromium. Chromium is known to be carcinogenic.

Another issue could be an improper fit, causing the glove to strain your hand. The glove itself should not strain your hand. It must be ergonomically designed to prevent hand fatigue. If your hand becomes tired, you may risk dropping objects and potentially injuring your feet instead.

Employees rely on their employers to ensure that the right gloves are provided. If that is not the case, we might mistakenly believe that the glove protects us when it actually does not. We can develop a false sense of security instead of focusing on reducing the risk of hand injury.

Hand safety first!

The role of safety representatives and suppliers is crucial when it comes to hand protection at work, whether it’s in the food industry or if you’re working in an environment where you need to protect your hands from cuts.

It's crucial to speak up in an industry setting to point out factors such as—where cut-resistant gloves are necessary for the job: "I can see that you are exposing yourselves to risk here. Are you using cut-resistant gloves for handling sharp edges? Have there been any cut injuries?"

If we don’t ask these questions, action may not be taken until a serious incident occurs. Conducting a risk analysis is essential, but it shouldn't wait until a severe incident or accident has already happened. It's crucial to have a dialogue among employees, employers, and suppliers to ensure they have the right gloves.

Granberg 592 - Touchscreen Compatible Cut Resistant Gloves

Wear a glove that fits you

Great gloves may be provided in workplaces, but what happens if employees wear the wrong size? This is particularly common with welding gloves, as more and more women are working with welding. It is common to see gloves that are too big, which becomes a risk.

Is it okay to use a protective glove privately?

Absolutely! Many protective gloves today are becoming trendier. They are designed to look good so that you can wear them in your leisure time. If you want to ensure that you're using the right gloves, you should primarily visit a competent professional store where knowledgeable staff is available and the supplier is involved.

Podcast on hand safety

Tune into Granberg’s informative podcast series on protective gloves: Handskpodden by Granberg. The program, currently for the Nordic market, discusses everything you need to know about hand protection and protective gloves. English episodes will come later.

How do we identify and choose the right protective glove?

There is a vast number of symbols and numbers that you can find on the gloves. If you want to learn more, you can visit our Knowledge Center.

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